Re: thoughts on origin of religions

From: steve (
Date: Tue Feb 26 2002 - 15:38:22 MST

----- Original Message -----
From: "Anders Sandberg" <>
To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, February 26, 2002 7:57 PM
Subject: Re: thoughts on origin of religions

> On Sat, Feb 23, 2002 at 02:11:54PM +0100, Jacques Du Pasquier wrote:
> >
> > I would personally think your first intuition was right. If you take a
> > larger view, seeing the monotheism as a product of writing makes
> > sense. While writing was invented "around 4100-3800 BCE" (Anders), one
> > may hypothesize that pre-monotheist creeds have existed for tens of
> > tousands years or more before. (see below for some supporting arguments)
> >
> > So OK, writing didn't instantly produce monotheism, but maybe it
> > started/boosted a cultural process which in turn begat monotheism (and
> > Plato), which begat atheism (and materialism) -- which will beget the
> > Singularity (maybe!).
> >
> > I see it as a fairly linear world view development (no offence
> > intended to religious people), in which writing is just instrumental.
> > (Not "linear" as opposed to exponentional of course.)
> What evidence is there for this kind of development? There are certainly
> a lot of cultural processes that are going on, how can we chack if the
> processes we have experienced have been necessary (or likely) results of
> preconditions such as writing, or just how it happened?
> I do not quite agree that writing would lead to monotheism - just look
> at China, where writing has been very prevalent but no major monotheist
> religions have originated. I'm also unaware of any evidence for ancient
> pre-monotheisms, unless one assumes the seed to be the remote high gods
> in many nature religions.

Indeed. The problem here is the assumption of a continuous, linear model of
development. I'm very sceptical about that-certainly it needs to be
supported rather than assumed. Also, there's an implicit assumption that
monotheism is more "advanced" than or grows out of polytheism. I think that
is simply an assumption (with all sorts of baggage in it). Steve Davies
> The issue isn't really religion here (although that is interesting), but
> rather the determinism of history. Will the invention of the computer
> inevitabily lead to the Internet and global freedom of information? Will
> the introduction of writing lead to monotheisms? Will the introduction
> of agriculture lead to the singularity? These are very relevant issues
> to consider.

I think all of the evidence is against a determinist model of history so my
answer to all of these points is no, not necessarily. SD

> > > >I would really like to know what happend 500-400 BCE - look at the
> > > >of extremely influential philosophers suddenly popping up worldwide;
> > > >important greek ones in the West, Sun Tzu, Confucius, Buddha etc. Why
> > > >many at this time?
> >
> > Maybe just because of some maturation stage consequent to the start of
> > writing?
> Why in such a short time? Remember that the societies they lived in had
> had writing for very different times and used very different writing
> systems.

If I remember correctly, this was first pointed out by Jaspers, who coined
the term "Axial Age" for this period. The fact that this happened suddenly
suggests that there was a "concatenation of circumstances" (as Jeeves would
say) around that time. One would be the appearance of trans-Eurasian trade
routes at this time. Another important factor would be the emergence of a
new kind of political system in the Middle East (the Persian Empire of Cyrus
and Darius) which among other things makes this linkage possible. Of course
it may be that we are retrospectively seeing pattern where there is none-the
historicity of some of these people is open to doubt. SD
> The big question is: how deterministic is history? We can be certain it
> is not entirely deterministic - the tyfoon saving Japan from Chinese
> invasion was in the end due to sensitive dependency on initial
> conditions. We can also be certain it is not entirely random - as Jared
> Diamond pointed out in _Guns, Germs and Steel_ there are noticeable
> patterns in how different civilizations have evolved over huge amounts
> of time and great geographical separation. Is there any way we can
> decribe the exact amount of determinism? It is not so much a
> quantitative issue as a qualitative one.

Absolutely, this is one of the *big* questions with a lot of bearing on how
we view our own situation today. I tend towards a less deterministic model
myself but I do think institutions are enormously important and they can be
very hard to change. Steve Davies
> --
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
> GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Nov 01 2002 - 13:37:41 MST